Song 2:1 I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.
These are common flowers in the country-side. The girl is perhaps being self-deprecatory – there is nothing special about her.
Song 2:2 Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.
The boy replies by saying that she is not just any wild flower; all others are as briers and brambles in comparison with her. Her very surroundings and humble circumstances only serve to make her beauty stand out all the more.
Song 2:3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Our modern apple tree was not native to Israel at the time. Possibly the reference is to the apricot tree. In any case, its sweet and refreshing fruit is unexpectedly found amongst the wild trees of the forest.
I delight to sit in his shade – ‘Here is a strong indication of the role of the male as protector of the female. He provides the security in which she can shelter and blossom.’ (Gledhill)
Gledhill, in reflecting on these verses of mutual admiration, invites to ask what we most look for and admire in our partners and spouses. If ‘love is blind’, especially in its first flush, we do well to consider suitability and compatibility. Do we admire our partners because they are very like ourselves, or because they are very different? Do we admire their intellect, or their practical common sense? Is there much to interest and stimulate us, or will we become bored in time? Let us see in them ‘a rich vein of precious rock, to be explored and mined in an ever-deepening relationship.’
Song 2:4 He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.
Banqueting hall – lit. ‘house of wine’. This could be a place of formal celebrating (but there has been no mentioned yet of a wedding) or possibly a tavern. Gledhill, noting that the continuing rural imagery and the rapid progression to intimate behaviour, things that such literal locales are probably not in mind: ‘Since…wine is associated in the Song with the idea of kissing, it seems better to interpret the house of wine metaphorically as his mouth, into which he invites her to enter, to enjoy their deep kissing.’
His banner over me is love – The word for ‘banner’ occurs frequently in the book of Numbers, where it seems to refer to a ‘standard’, or flag-pole. However, the military connotations here seem dubious. Gledhill speculates (on the basis of similar words in cognate languages) that the meaning has to do with ‘sight, or appearance, or glancing’, so, ‘His glance towards me was intent on love-making’. G. Lloyd Carr similarly: ‘His intentions were to make love.’
Song 2:5 Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.
The girl is aroused, but weak with desire. Her love-sickness can only be cured by ‘eating and drinking of the delights of love-making’ (Gledhill).
Song 2:6 His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.
‘She sees herself held in the strong embrace of her lover as they lie together under their leafy shade, her head locked in the strong left arm of the boy while with his right hand he gently caresses her.’ (Gledhill)
Song 2:7 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
‘How far they go in “making love” is not for us to know. The poem fades away in a haze of passion.’ (Gledhill)
Daughters of Jerusalem – this may be a ‘literary fiction’, a foil for the thoughts of the girl’ (Gledhill).
The girl ‘wants their love to be consummated, but she is in great tension, because she knows that the time is not yet ripe. In speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem, she is speaking to herself. She is basically telling herself to cool it, to wait for the appropriate time. For the Christian, the appropriate time is always within marriage, never outside it. We are all so clever at rationalising our own desires, at excusing our own lack of self-discipline of our bodies and of our thought-lives. But we need to be ruthless in this matter, as Jesus himself taught (Mt 5:29f). If what we see, touch, feel, read or hear, causes a wrong chain of thought to originate in our minds, then we are to be severe on ourselves, and shut our eyes, and refrain from touching or reading or watching. Not that the desire or instincts are in any way wrong in themselves. What is wrong is when those desires run away with us, and spiral totally out of control, and find their fulfilment in illegitimate ways.’ (Gledhill)
‘As well as falling under the objective moral judgment of God, the pursuit of lust is also subject to the law of diminishing returns (i.e. the frustrations of pursuing an ever-increasing pleasure only to be met by an experience of ever-diminishing intensity. What promises so much, in fact yields so little. The physical exhaustion and the psychological self-disgust are the natural consequences of isolating the desire for immediate pleasure from the love and respect for the person.’ (Gledhill)
Song 2:8 Listen! My lover! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
Listen! – probably to the sound of approaching footsteps. The thought is balanced by the ‘look!’ of v9.
Song 2:9 My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.
Look! – ‘Most men need patience to die, but a saint who understands what death admits him to should rather need patience to live. I think he should often look out and listen on a deathbed for his Lord’s coming; and when he receives the news of his approaching change he should say, ‘The voice of my beloved! behold, He cometh leaping over the mountains, skipping upon the hills’ (Song of Solomon 2:8).” (Flavel)
Song 2:10 My lover spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.
Song 2:11 See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Song 2:12 Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
Song 2:13 The fig-tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
Song 2:14 My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding-places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
My dove in the clefts of the rock – It was a characteristic of a dove (i.e. a Rock Dove, rather than the turtle dove, to hide in the clefts of a cliff so that it could not be heard or seen. The girl waits shyly within the secluded protection of her own house.
Song 2:15 Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
Song 2:16 My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.
My lover is mine and I am his – A beautifully balanced statement of mutual ownership. Marriage is a partnership, not a take-over. There is, or should be, in marriage an exclusivity that gives it its stability and intimacy.
Song 2:17 Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills.